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Taxes likely to rise

Article Date: 
20 July, 2012 (All day)

The Morgan School District’s financial situation is so complicated, it is going to take a combination of many options to solve, or even squeak by from year to year, school board members agreed.  The solution rests on raising taxes, a voted leeway, and possibly even more cuts that could directly affect the classroom.
Although the board did not take an official vote at their last work meeting, they directed the business administrator to submit a higher tax rate to the county to appear on tax notices.  The board will vote on the actual amount of the tax increase at their truth in taxation hearing on Aug. 14, where they hope to hear from the public.  
Because the assessed value of Morgan homes has continued to decrease to the tune of $159 million, the state tax commission recommended a higher tax rate.  That rate is separate from the one the district will be considering Aug. 14. Board members hope to get between $70,000 and $100,000 from raising taxes effective this November.
“We may have our hands tied and have to make serious and drastic cuts to the district if we don’t raise taxes significantly this year,” Superintendent Ken Adams said.
In addition, the board is leaning toward a voted leeway to be on the June 2013 ballot.  If voters approve the leeway, it could give the district an additional $1.5 million. 
More cuts could be coming, as well.
Adams said the next options to cut include a high school media specialist, a CTE or human resource secretary, recess aides, the school resource officer, a reading specialist, middle and high school elective classes, a third grade teacher, and a full time administrator.  In addition, student fees and class sizes may be on the increase, meaning many class sizes could increase five to seven students.  Test scores could dip, Adams said.
Future cuts could mean at least five fewer teachers in the district.  The district is considering charging a travel fee to participate in extra-curricular activities including sports and field trips.
The district used to reimburse students for Advanced Placement tests if they passed, but have had to discontinue that.  The district is now keeping better track of purchasing, tracking expenditures monthly.
“The budget is basically balanced by a string,” Adams said.
Many board members and district administrators are worried that they don’t have a contingency fund for emergency and other unforeseen expenses.  The district may not have enough money to cover increases in utility bills if the area receives a colder than average winter, snow removal if there is higher than normal snowfall, substitute wages if teachers fall ill, repairs for a broken down bus, or bathroom hand towels if supply begins to run low.
Already, a district bond rate has gone down because district reserves are so low.
People not paying their taxes on time is also hurting the district’s budget.  Presently, there is about $500,000 in uncollected property taxes on county records.
Boardmember Ken Durrant said many national and state leaders predicted the recession would last for only two or three years and start to see a recovery in 2011.  In the meantime, Morgan has used all of its reserved funds and Durrant doesn’t see an economic recovery in the near future.
“This is a crisis,” Durrant said.  “We are in trouble.”
Teachers are calling for a discontinuation of cuts.
“We are not alone in looking at tight budgets, but we have taken our share of the burden for years,” said Morgan educator Jared Barlow, representing certified and classified staff members.  He said that since the “budget crisis” and “financial woes” began in 2008, the district has cut a total of $1.2 million in spending including changes in staff, medical insurance, class sizes and teacher salaries.  “That has affected employees and students. We believe any further cuts will damage the overall quality of education. We are bleeding profusely out of the jugular and we need to stop the bleeding.”
The district has cut teacher training, which is problematic now that teachers need training on the new common core, Barlow said. Some 47 teachers have resigned from the Morgan district since 2008 for more money and job security in other districts, Barlow said, indicative of the low teacher morale.  Another 37 classified staff members have resigned since 2008, he said.
“We have a high turnover rate. We’re not holding on to teachers as long, or settling on our second choice,” Barlow said.  “There is a sense of hopelessness.”
Barlow said that Park City recently raised property taxes, Murray voters passed a bond, and the Weber School District passed a new bond to help out with their budgets.
The state legislature has slowly taken away funding for teacher and staff social security and retirement, shifting that burden to local school districts over the years, Adams said.  In addition, the state has reduced transportation funding as well.
“We don’t have the businesses or second homes in Morgan.  We are basically a bedroom community to the Wasatch Front,” Durrant said.  “Everything is on the taxpayer’s head.  That is what the state has done to us.”
Adams said educators should be asking their Legislators to restore funding for social security and retirement, fund new growth, and stop allocating money for “pet projects.”
“Quit playing games with us. Every district in the state says the same thing,” Adams said.  “Fund the weighted pupil unit at a level that adequately addresses the need.”
Federal stimulus money did not help matters over the years, Adams said.
“Federal stimulus funding (was meant) to hire new employees, not maintain the ones we have,” Adams said. “That funding is now gone.  It did not stimulate the economy.  It filled the gap for a while.”
“We took that carrot and swallowed it whole,” Durrant said.
Parents could help the district by making sure their children are in school every day.  Enrollment as well as attendance rates combine to determine state funding for the district.
“We want kids in school not only to learn, but because it affects us financially, too,” Durrant said.